Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bang for the Taxpayer Buck

If the Jacksonville Public Library were to seek independent funding (such as through a dedicated millage or as a Special Purpose District), what could it learn from other library systems who have attempted the same?  To put it simply, taxpayers want something for their money.

In their descriptions of attempts to convince voters to pass a referendum, Craig Buthod, Director of the Louisville Free Public Library and Martín Gómez, City Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library, noted that the process takes time and that negativity does not work.  Fear tactics, often employed by those representing fire and police, can be effective sometimes, sure, but complaining that the libraries are dilapidated or wanting of books does not sell the community on saving them.  As Mr. Buthod put it, “You can’t win by whining.” 

If this committee determines that an independent tax district is the answer, strong community support will be necessary to make that happen. A successful campaign would ideally include elected officials’ support, the support of those whose budgets may otherwise seem to be competing for the same dollars (i.e., fire and police), and time—with more community courting than yard signs or punchy editorials.  Most importantly, though, the mark of a successful campaign seems to be a focus on excellent services.   Again, what does the taxpayer gain from supporting our community’s libraries?

For every tax dollar it receives, the JPL reports that it provides $4.04 in value, noting that folks attending the library programs last year could more than fill Everbank Stadium three times over.  Jacksonville residents are definitely using the libraries for information, too, asking 952,847 reference questions and spending 12,927,624 minutes on library computers last year.  Of the 7,500 individuals attending WORKSource job training programs at the JPL last year, half  found employment.

In order to achieve reliable, sustainable funding, the JPL may have to prove it touches everyone in the community.   In its weathering the recent budget storms and continuing to provide quality children’s literacy programs, research assistance, safe and appealing spaces for teens to gather, and even tax help for Jacksonville citizens, perhaps it already has.

(For more on what other library systems have taught us about seeking stable funding, see a Florida Times-Union recent editorial.) 

The “Check it Out:  Independent Library Funding” study meets 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Fridays at JCCI.  Grab your lunch and join us!  Please RSVP.

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